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AmeriCorps VISTA

Growing winter crops for the Food Bank

21.06.2019 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Food Bank, Harvest Against Hunger, Washington Site, Whidbey Island

Harvest Against Hunger Capacity VISTA Brandi Blais serves at Good Cheer Food Bank and Thrift Stores, an innovative shopping model food bank located in Langley, WA. Supported by a combination of in-kind donations and revenue from its two thrift stores, Good Cheer provides food to 800+ families on South Whidbey Island each month. The gleaning program is an essential part of Good Cheer’s grocery rescue efforts, adding locally sourced fresh produce to the food bank during the harvest season. Brandi’s mission at Good Cheer is to expand and build on the existing gleaning program, creating a sustainable, volunteer-led program that will continue to bring fresh produce to those who need it for years to come.

Good Cheer is fortunate to have many generous gardeners on the south end who regularly donate fresh produce throughout the summer, but fresh produce donations in the winter are less common. Gardening during the winter is challenging, but it can be done! And, it’s a great way to have fresh produce for your table in the winter. This year, Island County is promoting the Grow A Row program to encourage donations of fresh produce to Whidbey Island Food Banks.

If you feel like a challenge, try planting some winter crops! Leeks, parsnips, and brussel sprouts are good choices for this climate, along with kale and cauliflower. Now is the time to plant for fall and winter harvests – check out the Tilth guide for tips and information on planting and extending the harvest season.

Our intrepid garden manager, Stephanie, kept one of the Good Cheer Garden kale beds going last winter, mainly by just letting it do its thing. She also grew some beautiful overwintered cauliflower, and our produce manager Lissa reports that her compost pile was warm enough to grow tiny but tasty new potatoes that she harvested early this spring. I let a few radishes hang around last fall (okay, let’s be honest – I planted them in an old ammo box and forgot about them till the spring) and they surprised me by not only surviving but flourishing; they flowered and then put out radish pods around the beginning of May. If you haven’t tried radish pods, they’re delicious, sort of spicy and just the thing for spring salads.

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Healing Gardens: Making the Namaste Community Garden Accessible to All

20.06.2019 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Harvest Against Hunger, IRC, Washington Site

“Harvest Against Hunger Americorps VISTA Hailey Baker serves at the International Rescue Committee in SeaTac, WA. The IRC helps people whose lives and livelihoods are shattered by conflict and disaster to survive, recover, and gain control of their future. Hailey works with the New Roots program, a community garden and food access program within the IRC that helps individuals and families adjust to their new home through gardening, nutrition education, orientation to U.S. food systems, and youth leadership activities.”

The Namaste Community Garden in Tukwila, WA is a flurry of activity at this time of year. The growers, the majority of whom came to the U.S. as refugees from Bhutan, Nepal, and Burma, spend hours diligently digging, planting, weeding, and watering their plots.

One plot, usually bursting with life-giving food at this point in the season, sits overgrown and empty. Its keeper, a dedicated Bhutanese grower named Ram, recently lost both of his legs and is no longer able to garden. He still visits the garden often, riding his wheelchair along the main woodchipped path, but his inability to garden and connect with the land has left him feeling isolated.

At the same time, a group of ELL students at nearby Foster High School are hard at work on a big group project. The topic for the project is a wheelchair-accessible garden bed design. At the close of the project, the students presented their work to officials of the City of Tukwila, who were so impressed with the outcome that they pledged to make a donation to put the design into practice. Little did they know that a need for an ADA garden design was so close at hand.

With materials donated by community members and the City of Tukwila, New Roots and the Foster High students came together on June 6th and 7th to install permeable pavers and to construct two ADA-approved raised garden beds on the plot belonging to Ram. The pavers will allow his wheelchair to roll easily into the plot, and the raised beds will be tall enough for him to comfortably garden. The students, Foster High, and New Roots staff, and representatives from the City of Tukwila worked for several hours each day, doing everything from clearing space for the pavers to sawing wood planks for the beds.

Last week, Ram planted the first shoots of the season in the new raised beds. His wheelchair rolls easily over the pavers, and he can comfortably reach the soil in the bed from where he sits. The journey to healing has only just begun, but with his connection to the garden restored anything is possible.

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Combating Hunger Unites Veterans and Military Families

13.06.2019 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Florida, Gleaning, Harvest Against Hunger, National Site, Society of Saint Andrew

Harvest Against Hunger Capacity Vista Mykevia Jones serves at Society of Saint Andrew Florida, a nationwide, faith-based, ecumenical, nonprofit ministry operating a variety of programs that fight hunger in America. The Society of Saint Andrew’s gleaning network coordinates thousands of volunteers with local farmers to actually enter fields and groves after the harvest, and pick up the tons of good purchase left behind and distribute of these loads to large food banks. Thus far in 2019, our dedicated volunteers have collected 2,222,667 pounds of produce that have been distributed to 84 different agencies throughout the state of Florida.

Check out the news coverage about the event Crop gleaning helps to feed the hungry

On June 11, 2019, SoSA Florida teamed up with Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) and Humana to raise awareness of food insecurity in Central Florida. Despite their sacrifices, veterans still struggle to provide food for their families. In reality, 25 percent of veterans struggle to provide food for their families and have reported low food security in the past year. The Uniting to Combat Hunger campaign is a supportive collaborative effort to alleviate hunger in Central Florida.

The goal of Uniting to Combat Hunger campaign is to provide 100,000 meals by organizing food drives across Florida to help meet their goal. This collaborative glean is one of the numerous solutions that will make a positive impact in the lives of veterans and military families across the state of Florida. “Over the past year, Humana and VFW have identified a number of areas where we can strengthen our partnership,” VFW Foundation Director Richard Potter said. “The issue of food insecurity among veterans quickly rose to the top of the list. By working together, we believe we can implement solutions that will make a positive difference in the lives of veterans and military families across the country.”

The gleaning took place at Long & Scott Farms in Lake County, Florida. Humana and VFW volunteers were also joined by a wonderful group of high school students from Washington, DC on mission camp with Hope Community Center in Apopka, FL, approximately 150 volunteers. The volunteers spent 3 hours hand-picking corn that would have otherwise gone remained in field and gone to waste. Together, they picked about 15,000 to 20,000 pounds of delicious Zellwood triple-sweet corn — enough for about 4,000 meals which was donated to Second Harvest Food Bank, where it will go to families who don’t have access to enough nutritious food.

Thanks again to SoSA Florida’s long-time family farm partner Long & Scott Farms!

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Market Day at South Seattle College

05.06.2019 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Harvest Against Hunger, King County Farmers Share Program, Rotary First Harvest, Washington Site

Harvest Against Hunger Americorps VISTA Gayle Lautenschlager serves at Rotary First Harvest on the King County Farmers Share Program. By developing direct purchasing agreements between farmers and food banks, the program aims to increase access to healthy fresh foods in high need populations.

As the semester drew to a close and students entered into the final weeks before Summer break, the South Seattle Food Pantry held its second Spring market day event. This year the event shone a spotlight on regional produce thanks to the King County Farmers Share grant. The King Conservation District has provided two years of funding to pilot direct farm to food pantry relationships between local growers and food banks. South Seattle College Food Pantry has historically relied on donated produce for the bulk of their regular distribution. Previous market day events have used available funds to purchase fruits and vegetables from a wholesale distributor. This is the first event to feature locally grown and freshly harvested produce.

Nearly 130 students were served through this event, the most in any one day for the food pantry to date. Thirty additional students were served via a pop-up event the following day at the Landscape Horticultural program. This event served to pilot purchasing directly from a grower and featured culturally relevant produce to reflect the diversity in the student population. A local grower specializing in Asian greens was selected to contract with. Three varieties of greens were purchased from Cascadia Greens in Enumclaw, Washington.

As a pilot program, opportunities to learn and grow from this initial event are plentiful. As the pantry committee met with the Harvest Against Hunger VISTA the following day, one main area of potential growth and improvement came to light. Based on which types of produce and in what quantities was first to go, expansion in the variety of produce was determined to be of importance. This opportunity to diversify the offerings will not only benefit the students who are served in the next market event but will help bolster additional King County farmers at the end of their season.

By bringing fresh, locally grown produce to students at South Seattle College, the King County Farmers Share program is increasing access to nutrient dense food in communities while helping to support local farmers in the process.

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Growing Food Security in our Community

31.05.2019 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Food Bank, Harvest Against Hunger, South King County, Vashon Maury Island Community Food Bank, Washington Site

Harvest Against Hunger AmeriCorps VISTA Cassidy Berlin serves as program coordinator between the Vashon Maury Island Community Food Bank and the Food Access Partnership. FAP is a program of the Vashon Island Growers Association and strives to make local food more accessible to community members while fairly compensating farmers. This collaboration draws surplus island harvests to the food bank to combat economic obstacles that prevent fresh, local produce from being a staple in 1 in 7 island homes.

The island of Vashon is home to 10,000 year-round residents, two large grocery stores, and dozens of tiny farms trying to keep up with the ravenous demand for local produce. In a community where a good head of napa cabbage can retail for over $10, getting summer produce in low-income houses requires multiple avenues of work and collaboration. In addition to gleaning fruit from unpicked trees and encouraging local gardeners to donate extra harvests, starts have been provided to food bank customers to grow a bit of their own food.

“This is really great, I just dug up my yard yesterday. What kind of lettuce is that?” asks one customer before his weekly shop at the food bank. By providing a variety of starts for customers to choose from, families who are interested in gardening can supplement their weekly food budget with homegrown kale, lettuce, broccoli, tomatoes, and bush beans. People with reliable access to resources such as food, employment, childcare, and health insurance frequently misconceive the ability for food insecure individuals to grow their own food. Born of the “bootstraps” mentality, it’s easy to task resource-strapped families with the responsibility of starting and maintaining a garden.

In a community where family gardens are ubiquitous, growing advice is abundant. Most impoverished community members juggle the lack of affordable health insurance, housing, and childcare in addition to multiple jobs. Foodbank customers who have the time, energy, and space to grow their own food are delighted to be supplied starts. Harvest for Vashon proudly continues crafting different solutions to make healthy, local produce accessible for all.

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Sowing the Seeds of Self-Sufficiency at the Food Bank

22.05.2019 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Clallam County, Harvest Against Hunger, Washington Site, WSU Extension Office

Harvest Against Hunger VISTA Benji Astrachan serves at the WSU Clallam County Extension in Port Angeles, WA. In coordination with the successful VISTA-founded Gleaning program at the Extension, Benji will be developing Community Food Projects including processing the gleaned produce to donate shelf-stable items to food banks, launching a community meal to teach cooking skills and increase access to healthy meals, and coordinating with the Hot Food Recovery program to divert surplus hot food from landfills to hungry community members. Through these projects, Benji and the WSU Extension seek to educate and empower the local community through increasing knowledge and access and reducing food insecurity and food waste in Clallam County.

Last week, Harvest Against Hunger VISTA Benji Astrachan and WSU Extension Gleaning Coordinator (and former HAH VISTA!) Sharah Truett drove two tightly-packed cars to the Sequim Food Bank one town east to give out plant starts to visitors coming for groceries. For the past month, Sharah and another Extension employee had been coaxing seedlings of all varieties through the incremental and inconsistent weather of the Olympic Peninsula, greenhouses and backyards overflowing with the bright green sprouts and first leaves of cherry tomatoes, arugula, kale, strawberries, raspberries, garlic, cilantro, and countless other plants. Now, on another unusually warm spring morning, they set up in the parking lot as the food bank visitors passed through, handing out plant starts to anyone interested.

Most of the people passing were thrilled to pick up a tomato plant, some lettuce, a strawberry start. Many were already growing a small amount of food at home and we’re excited to share their knowledge, learn some new tips, and add another couple plants to their backyard plots. While many people may assume that those who visit the food bank wouldn’t have the resources to garden, in a rural town like Sequim most folks have access to at least some amount of land on their property, and for many, growing food has been a constant part of their life – much more so than the food insecurity that brought them to the food bank that day. Stories were shared of growing up on farms, childhoods spent picking these same vegetables fresh out of the garden, and above all, the visitors shared a respect for the calming, healing and meditative powers of getting one’s hands into the dirt and the care that goes into raising the tiny seedlings into delicious and healthy food for the dinner table.

This experience of handing out plant starts was a good reminder that people visiting the food bank are by no means a monolith – they come from every possible background and could never be defined by their need for help getting groceries that week. As a society, we tend to ignore the intricacies of survival and poverty, and especially the reality that so many face, that of living on the edge every day. Instead, we draw straight lines to determine who falls below or above the poverty rate, without regard to the many folks who are near crisis most of the time, one urgent car repair or an unexpectedly high utilities bill away from not knowing how they’ll get their next meal.

While a few tomato plants in the garden isn’t quite the solution to systemic hunger, giving people back their agency is a pretty big deal, and giving someone the means to produce their own food is and always has been an important part of self-sufficiency. Giving people the capacity to grow food for themselves is empowering on a fundamental level, and that came across in the pride and joy the Sequim Food Bank visitors shared in their stories of home gardening, in the pictures they kept on their phones from last year’s harvest. It also came across in the rearview mirror on the drive home, where all that was left in the back of the car were some empty boxes and smudges of potting soil – and the knowledge that another hundred or so people would have the joy of picking part of their meals from their own yards later this season.

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Welcome, Mykevia

16.05.2019 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Florida, Harvest Against Hunger, National Site, Society of Saint Andrew

Mykevia Jones is a recent Florida International University graduate and she majored in Anthropology with a minor in Biology and Agroecology certificate. Mykevia is a native of South Florida and just recently relocated to Central Florida to work as an Americorp Vista in Orlando, Florida with Harvest against Hunger. Ms. Jones has spent the last two years interning in a variety of environmental related fields including community gardens, farms, and local grassroots agricultural nonprofit organizations. She enjoys hiking, kayaking, farming, working out, reading, and eating.

Harvest Against Hunger Capacity Vista Mykevia Jones serves at Society of Saint Andrew Florida, a nationwide, faith-based, ecumenical, nonprofit ministry operating a variety of programs that fight hunger in America. The Society of Saint Andrew’s gleaning network coordinates thousands of volunteers with local farmers to actually enter fields and groves after the harvest, and pick up the tons of good purchase left behind and distribute of these loads to large food banks. Thus far in 2019, our dedicated volunteers have collected 1,960,647 pounds of produce that have been distributed to 84 different agencies throughout the state of Florida.

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Presentation is Key

15.05.2019 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Food Bank, Food for Others, Harvest Against Hunger, National Site, Virginia

Maheyaar Barron is the Gleaning and Produce Recovery Coordinator at Food for Others, a food bank and pantry located in Fairfax, Virginia. The organization services the northern region of the state through a multitude of programs such as emergency food aid, weekend meals for elementary school children, neighborhood site deliveries, and community partner support. The gleaning program, which began in 2017 in partnership with Harvest Against Hunger, connects local growers to families in need, bringing in fresh produce directly from farms, farmers markets, and community gardens.

As the Farmers’ Markets season begins, the streets abound with wicker baskets, colorful displays of fruits and vegetables, and smiling faces. The uncharacteristically heavy rain has done little to dampen the excitement, and both farmers and shoppers gear up for the over twenty-two markets the region has to offer. A similar process begins over at Food for Others, where VISTA Maheyaar Barron and the rest of the team make place for the thousands of pounds of fresh produce soon to come through the warehouse doors. Space is cleared in the food banks walk-through Choice Section, the primary distribution point for the new gleanings.

The Farmers’ Market experience is one that is hard to replicate at the food bank. Limited funds mean that the picturesque wicker baskets are replaced with plastic or cardboard containers. Instead of sunshine, the fresh produce is framed with canned goods, grey flooring, and harsh, white lighting. The mood of shoppers also differs, as their presence in the space is out of necessity rather than choice.

Maheyaar has been trying to research and brainstorm ways to make the space more inviting, building on the work of his predecessors. Grace, last year’s VISTA, had added her own flair, marking the days produce on small chalkboard signs, including recipes and nutrition facts, etc. So what’s next? Luckily, Food for Others is moving forward with a long-awaited building project and will be constructing a whole new room for the Choice Section. With better lighting, temperature control, and display, the hope is to increase not only the volume of produce taken but also the number of shoppers moving through the space at one time. With all this in place, Maheyaar’s focus can shift to nutrition knowledge dissemination, making sure the shopper knows the what and why of what they are taking home.

Ambiance is essential in making the families feel comfortable, supported, and respected. It is also a way to incentivize healthy choices. Supermarkets spend large sums of time and money sprucing up their produce displays, and while their goals may be different, the strategies are the same. Learning from and reaching out to local stores may be the next step.

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Welcome, Miracle!

08.05.2019 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Georgia, Gleaning, Harvest Against Hunger, National Site

Miracle Wilson is a recent graduate from the University of South Carolina who earned her B.S. in Environmental Science. During her undergrad, she had volunteered for environmental events in her school and Midlands County. Miracle has always had a passion for the environment and environmental justice since middle school. After college, she moved to Georgia where she later accepted a position to join Society of St. Andrew as a VISTA. She has expressed her passion and determination in feeding her community.

Society of St. Andrew is a nonprofit organization that serves its community by providing free fresh produce and getting the community involved. All food is accepted however, one of the focal points is bringing freshness to people’s diet with produce that are gleaned by their volunteers from farms and markets. Going into a new area, metro Atlanta, they seek to bring the community together and bring awareness to fighting hunger for themselves, their neighbors, and for the state of Georgia.

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Welcome, Mary Pearl!

02.05.2019 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Gleaning, Harvest Against Hunger, OIC of Washington, Washington Site

Mary Pearl Ivy is a recent Earlham College graduate and she majored in Environmental Science with a Biology focus. Mary Pearl was born and raised in Indiana and has just made her way westward to work as an AmeriCorps VISTA in Yakima, Washington with Harvest Against Hunger. Mary Pearl has spent her last four summers working alongside community members, gardens, college farms and environmental centers to source and grow fresh local foods to provide bellies of all ages and backgrounds with warm meals and healthy groceries. She loves gardening, baking, cooking, hiking and meeting new people.

Harvest Against Hunger Gleaning Coordinator VISTA Mary Pearl Ivy serves at OIC of Washington, a non-profit organization providing community services through federal, state and local funding sources. Mary Pearl’s focus is with the Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP), which aims to supplement the diets of low-income Americans including the elderly by providing them with emergency food and nutrition assistance at no cost. OIC’s Food Bank is also the central distribution agency for Yakima County which distributes food commodities to other food banks through Yakima Valley. In addition to farm to table communications for the food bank, Mary Pearl has plans to recruit volunteers to work within a community garden, in hopes of providing accessibility to knowledge and resources for individuals to grow their own fresh foods.

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